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Environmental and animal studies are rapidly growing areas of interest across a number of disciplines. Natures of Africa is one of the first edited volumes which encompasses transdisciplinary approaches to a number of cultural forms, including fiction, non-fiction, oral expression and digital media. The volume features new research from East Africa and Zimbabwe, as well as the ecocritical and eco-activist ‘powerhouses’ of Nigeria and South Africa. The chapters engage one another conceptually and epistemologically without an enforced consensus of approach. In their conversation with dominant ideas about nature and animals, they reveal unexpected insights into forms of cultural expression of local communities in Africa. The analyses explore different apprehensions of the connections between humans, animals and the environment, and suggest alternative ways of addressing the challenges facing the continent. These include the problems of global warming, desertification, floods, animal extinctions and environmental destruction attendant upon fossil fuel extraction. There are few books that show how nature in Africa is represented, celebrated, mourned or commoditised. Natures of Africa weaves together studies of narratives – from folklore, travel writing, novels and popular songs – with the insights of poetry and contemporary reflections of Africa on the worldwide web. The chapters test disciplinary and conceptual boundaries, highlighting the ways in which the environmental concerns of African communities cannot be disentangled from social, cultural and political questions. This volume draws on and will appeal to scholars and teachers of oral tradition and indigenous cultures, literature, religion, sociology and anthropology, environmental and animal studies, as well as media and digital cultures in an African context.
In her introduction, Fiona Moolla suggests that an African ecocriticism must be informed by specific material and cultural conditions on the continent, and not simply draw on a supposedly more universal postcolonial framework. As she notes, there have been regrettably few book-length ecocritical studies focused on Africa and, much of the time, ‘African environment and animals have been considered in monographs and edited volumes in a general postcolonial context together with criticism of other world literatures’. Moolla rightly insists on the need for close consideration of how ‘the natural world and animals have been active agents in African cultural forms’ and ‘fundamentally constitutive of the worldviews and lifeways that have created [African] cultural “texts”’. In this sense, the importance of The Natures of Africa is embedded not just in the individual chapters of the book, but also in how the collection as a whole points to common issues and concerns that can ground productive dialogues about African cultural production in the context of the environmental humanities.
At the same time, the collection is very much connected to postcolonialism through its focus on decolonising knowledge and representation. Such counter-discursive work need not engage directly with the historical experience of colonialism in Africa or even explicitly with what Derek Gregory (2004) terms ‘the colonial present’. However, it does challenge ways of perceiving and conceptualising the world rooted in the perspectives of those empowered by imperial modernity and serving to reproduce forms of domination. This intellectual project has two components. The first is to illuminate how dominant ways of processing the world have been shaped by colonial discourses of identity and geography, how they suppress or render invisible other (unsettling) forms of knowledge and perception, and how they reinforce uneven political relationships. The second path to decolonising knowledge entails the articulation of marginalised cultural perspectives and forms of knowledge that might enable resistance to imperialism and alleviate its violent effects. Although The Natures of Africa is engaged with both aspects of perspectival decolonisation, its links with the second, often more difficult, component are particularly striking.